Treasure of Queen Amanishakheto

My ARCHAEO-crush for the month of October is a treasure…  a real treasure that was unfortunately found by a treasure-hunter, not an archaeologist.

Type: artefact (jewellery)
Civilisation: Ancient Sudan, Kingdom of Kush
Date: Merotic period, reign of Queen Amanishakheto, 10 BCE – 1CE
ARCHAEO-Crush: The treasure of the Kandake (queen) Amanishakheto–which is more than the gold jewellery presented here–was discovered in her pyramid at Meroe (pronounced May-roe-ay); however probably not in a funerary chamber inside the core of the pyramid as claimed by the explorer treasure-hunter Giuseppe Ferlini, but more likely in the burial chamber below the pyramid. Unlike Egyptian ones, the structure of Kushite pyramids does not make these inner chambers possible. Considering that Ferlini and his men completely dismantled the pyramid from the top down, it’s possible that he thought the chamber was inside it when in fact he was already beneath it–that poor pyramid is destroyed to its foundations! This was in 1834… and twelve earlier the pyramid was recorded as practically intact. (Insert sobs here.) I have to admit I have a soft for the Meroe pyramids…
As you can imagine, Ferlini sought to sell his fabulous discovery and part of it was acquired for the royal Bavarian collection (jewels pictured above) and are now part of the collection at the Staaliche Museum Aegyptischer Kunst in Munich.  However, he had difficulty finding a buyer for the second half of the Meroe treasure. Although to Meroiticists like me these objects are beautiful, they do not quite compare in quality of craftsmanship with material known from the Hellenistic world at the time. Plus, given that Meroitic art was little known at the time and that it combines known Egyptian and Hellenistic motifs along with obscure Meroitic ones, it is no wonder that people were hesitant to buy it.  In any case, it was Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius who convinced the Ägyptisches Museum in Berlin of the authenticity of the treasure and recommended its acquisition in 1844. Hence the reason why part of the treasure is in Berlin.
Meroitic treasure from a Kushite pyramid in Sudan… to me that’s a treasure, indeed!
Bucket list status: I have seen the treasure in both Berlin and Munich (and today’s photos date from my September trip to Munich).
Additional information:  The pyramid of Amanishakheto is Beg. N. 6 in the North Pyramid Field at Meroe.

Back to the Future Day

October 21, 2015 was the day on which Marty McFly travelled to the future in Doc Brown’s time-travelling DeLorean in Back to the Future II.  I love those movies and yes, I have found a way to connect them to archaeology….


As archaeologists, we study the past through archaeological excavations… but millennia separate us from the historical periods in which we are interested and to which we devote our lives.  What we find on digs is only a small percentage of what was there thousands of years ago.  And even if we do find lots of architectural vestiges, written texts or artefacts, sometimes it’s rather difficult to figure out what they mean and how they were used. That’s when we wish we had a plutonium-powered flying DeLorean so we could travel back in time… and figure it all out.

How cool would it be to figure out how the pyramids were actually built?  To stand with the masses as the barque of Amun is borne in procession during the Opet Festival? To ask Akhenaten what the heck was he thinking when he decided to be depicted in that odd fashion? To glimpse at Cleopatra and discover if she really was all that and a bag of chips? To witness the Romans get their butts kicked by a powerful Nubian queen?

Would you want to know? Or would you rather the past remained mysterious? Or would you rather travel to the future… and give the archaeologists there a few hints about what is going on back in good old 2015?!

Happy Back to the Future Day!


Remember September

I have been neglecting my blogging duties… mostly because life and volunteering got in the way. Although I did post two short bits of news since telling you about my trip to Italy, I now need to go back to the week after the Florence conference—the first week of September.

Instead of going back home, I flew up to Munich, Germany… for another conference! The CIPEG annual meeting was much smaller, which was quite pleasant, and consisted of a single session of presentations each day (as has always been the case since I started attending). There was no need to run from one room to the other, coffee and tea were offered right there in the small conference hall… and we had the cutest cookies in world on which to munch! Egyptological cookies… take a look!

I was very excited about this conference because of this year’s theme “From Historicism to the Multimedia Age: Content, Concept and Design of Egyptian Museums and Collections.” Having been doing mostly classical art research since 2012 and with my Egyptological projects have already been presented or not advanced enough to present, I have very little to share at Egyptological conferences these days. This topic, however, allowed me to present a paper at the conference, focusing the NCMA’s Egyptian galleries, which I designed for the new permanent collection building that opened 5 years ago. My presentation went really well (so I gathered by the many great comments I received) and I was very pleased.

A friend snapped a shot during my presentation (as I'm talking about the NCMA campus and its new building)

A friend snapped a shot during my presentation (as I’m talking about the NCMA campus and its new building).

What was nice about this meeting was the fact that it was held at the Egyptian Museum in Munich (Staatliche Museum Ägyptischer Kunst, the state museum of Egyptian art). The new building opened a couple of years ago and I had heard nothing but great things about it. I was looking forward to an opportunity to visit… and this conference was it. Wow! I had seen the Munich collection a few years ago at a different location, but that old building didn’t do it justice. This new building is entirely underground (but with natural light coming in) and quite stunning in its minimalist and modernist way… and it presents the collection like never before! I’ll present it on An Archaeologist’s Diary when I have time to put together a photo page. It’ll be worth the wait!

Now that I’m all caught up with the scholarly activities that have taken place abroad in late summer, we can go back to the future… I mean to the present!

UGA students visit the NCMA

Back on September 25, a group of students from the University of Georgia, Athens drove all the way up to Raleigh to visit the NC Museum of Art. The visit was part of Professor Mark Abbe’s course entitled Senior Seminar Greek and Roman Art: New Approaches and New Discoveries.

Discussing gallery design and object interpretation with students from the University of Georgia, Athens

Discussing gallery design and object interpretation with Mark Abbe’s students from the University of Georgia, Athens.

This study trip included a special curatorial tour of the Egyptian galleries, where I discussed the design of the galleries,  interpretation of objects and general curatorial work. Students also studied the Classical marble statues they had selected for a research paper due later this semester. I remained on hand to answer questions.

After a delicious lunch Neomonde (a must when Mark is in town), the visit continued in the NCMA’s Conservation lab, where Noelle chatted about paintings conservation, Perry demonstrated laser cleaning, and Corey and I talked about the Bacchus Conservation Project and objects conservation.

As always, it was a pleasure to spend the day with students who are interested in art and eager to learn about careers in the museum field.  (Clearly, the tour was deemed beneficial and interesting because I received a hand-written thank you card sent by snail mail! That was such a pleasant surprise.)

Egyptian blue: more than just a colour

An interesting article (especially the last two paragraphs) about new uses of Egyptian blue, with which you should now be familiar if you’ve read some of my posts during the summer of 2014.  It’s not often that art comes to the aid of science; it’s usually the other way round. It was appeared in Chemistry World and Paul Brack won the 2014–15 Chemistry World science communication competition with this article.

Source: Egyptian blue: more than just a colour | Chemistry World

International Congress of Egyptologists

My volunteer work has kept me away from my computer. Actually, let me rephrase that. It hasn’t kept me away from the computer, it’s kept me so busy that I didn’t even have time to blog! However, this alone isn’t the reason of my rather sporadic posting activities. I thought I would backtrack a little and tell you what I have been up to.

Banner of the International Congress of Egyptologists hanging at the University of Florence

Banner of the International Congress of Egyptologists hanging at the University of Florence

Back in August, I attended the International Congress of Egyptologists, which was held in Florence, Italy. It was my first time at the ICE and it was a bit of a zoo! There were something like 750 Egyptologists attending… can you imagine? Despite the large number of people that made it difficult to find a seat as we hopped from lecture hall to lecture hall (which meant that people left during the question periods, so as to get a seat when they got to another room—which I thought was a little rude), there were some really good papers. Some were about recent archaeological discovered, other on really great topics… there were so many to chose from!

Of course, being in Italy, we ate very well and the coffee break spread at the conference was absolutely amazing!  Baristas making espressos and cappuccinos (can you believe it?), lots of sweet treats (but not too sweet), fruits and yogurt, finger sandwiches…  All in all, it was a good conference.